I recently had the opportunity to chat with eating disorder survivor Danae Mercer, who’s an expert in practicing self love.
Why self love is so important
This past weekend, I got to take part in a really cool event called the Hello Wellness BeYou Celebration. Nature’s Way, one of my long-term (and favorite!) partners sponsored a keynote session called #MyWaytoWell and asked me to moderate.
What a cool job I have!
I had a candid conversation with influencer and journalist Danae Mercer about Instagram versus reality.
We discussed the augmented reality that social media creates, which can significantly impact not only your own wellness and mental health—but also the way each and every one of us defines beauty.
I was especially excited to chat with Danae, because her Instagram page (with 2 million followers!) is all about reminding each and every one us that we’re special—and breaking down the barriers of living without filters and loving every part of ourselves, cellulite and all.
Danae is not only an eating disorder survivor but runs a Facebook group dedicated to helping women feel comfortable talking about anything.
In the text that follows, I’ve included some of my favorite parts of our conversation. Our entire talk would have taken up a gazillion words, so I chose the sections that I think will be most inspirational to all of us.
Thanks to Nature’s Way® for sponsoring this blog post and conversation with Danae Mercer. All opinions are my own, as always!
Q: What inspired you to start your Instagram account, and how has it grown and changed over the years?
A: “Well, I started Instagram several years ago. And I was doing a lot of the traditional super luxury because I was the editor of a luxury travel magazine before I was at Women’s Health in the Middle East. So I was doing lots of luxury travel and fitspo stuff.
“And I reached a point around 18 months ago where I started to feel really disconnected from that. That was never me—I’ve never been that awesome glamorous or look-at-my-super-tight-abs girl.
“I also was increasingly aware of all the work that would go into creating these ‘effortless’ photos. You would take 100 pictures of your tummy at sunrise to try and get one shot that you’d post on social media.
“Or you’d spend an hour setting up the perfect travel breakfast that would then by the time you’d eat it be cold and mushy and disgusting. So I just started feeling really disconnected from all of that.
“And I saw Sara Shakeel—she’s an artist, and she had done this campaign around glitter stretch marks. And I remember, I saw a piece of her work and it…was this groundbreaking moment.
“I thought of my stretch marks as ‘Oh wow, maybe they’re not ugly. Maybe they’re art. Maybe this could be a good thing.’
“So in April 2019, I did my first more self-love post and really shifted the direction of my social media of what I was talking about—and really started to open up.
“And I haven’t stopped, really. I’ve just been so blown away by the community, and I feel more like myself every day.”
Q: How has your relationship with body image, body positivity, and self love changed since you’ve started sharing? Why is it so important to you?
A: “Well, I would say my relationship with my body and my body confidence, body acceptance, self love, those kinds of things—it’s changed massively since I started. I feel blessed every day, whenever I talk about something that’s on my mind.
“And I get this incredible community around me who says, ‘Oh hey, me too. Oh hey, you’re not the only one. I struggle with this also.’
“Because the things I talk about are the things I’m still navigating. They’re the things I’m still insecure about, whether it’s the cellulite on my thighs or the fact that I’m in my early 30s and I’m not yet married or I don’t have children.
“They’re the things that women have to navigate every day. And when I talk about these things, it helps so much just to know I’m not alone.
“So by talking about them, and honestly through this social media journey, I would say my body image has definitely improved, [as well as] my self confidence, my [ability] to find my own voice.
“Because a big part of me is a real people pleaser, so that’s always been really hard to fight. Like what do I believe in, what do I stand for? And honestly I’ve got social media and that incredible community to thank for it.”
Q: That’s so needed right now. What are some of your hopes when it comes to body confidence, body acceptance, and body image?
A: “My hope around that is that through the things I share—and whether it’s pulling back the curtain on how women pose their bodies in magazines and the difference it makes in magazines, or how influencers use lighting to make this pop and this sparkle, or whether it’s talking again about mental health issues or eating disorders or anything.
“My hope is that by having these conversations I help women and girls realize they aren’t alone.
“I feel like so many of us, we feel like we’re this little strange broken creature who sat in the corner [and thought] no one else has the struggle we do.
“And no one else has cellulite on their leg, and no one else has wobbly bits from the sides of their bras, and no one else wonders to themselves, ‘Should we be freezing our eggs? Should we be having children? Should we have another? Should we never have them?’
“But the thing is, we are all navigating these [things], and we’re told by a lot of companies that we’re the only ones because of course they want to sell products around it.
“Or these things are still really taboo, like eating disorders and mental health concerns—and so they’re not discussed.
“So I just hope I help other people not feel like some little stranger crouched by themselves in the corner but instead realize that they are surrounded by an incredible, powerful group of women ready to cheer them on.”
Q: How do you suggest people learn to have a positive approach to their own body image, while also using social media?
A: “That’s a great question. I recently spoke with a therapist for my podcast, actually, about why mental health issues and body image issues have shot up during COVID. And she said, ‘Hands down, it’s social media.
“It’s because we are wired to compare, and we are constantly comparing ourselves through social media.’ And whether we realize it or not, we think ‘It’s OK’ or ‘It doesn’t impact me. I know that this person might use Facetune.
“I know that this might be Photo-shopped. I know no one lives really that kind of perfect life.’
“But the tricky, dangerous thing is that that’s a really dangerous thought to have, because there are entire tech companies with billions of dollars on the other side of that phone.
“And their whole goal is to keep us engaged, is to make us more addicted is, to keep us watching and looking and staring longer.
“And shame is a very powerful emotion. And so to think, ‘Oh, this doesn’t impact me.’ No, it 100 percent impacts us. It does because what we passively consume seeps into our brains.
“So what you can do about it is: I would say really, really try to diversify what you follow. Make sure you include in your social media feeds a range of different body types, maybe different voices, maybe people instead of just luxury travel.
“Maybe it’s that mom next door who’s a bit more open about having three children and the mess and the joy and the chaos and the love it brings.
“So add that diversity, in addition to just protecting yourself, educating yourself. Try to expose yourself to that range so it doesn’t become a toxic space.
Q: What else can you do to help encourage these healthier social media habits through this healthier lens?
A: “I’m gonna pull another one from a therapist, an eating disorder specialist. We talked a lot about social media and just how difficult it can be.
“And one of the beautiful things she said is, ‘When we look in the mirror and we start tearing apart our body, it’s rarely to do only with our body and a lot more to do with what’s going on in our heads and our hearts, in our world.’
“And it’s one of the reasons why so many body dysmorphia or binge eating or eating disorders or even the temptation to diet—that struggle is growing because [of this]—according to the expert.
“It’s easier for us to control things around our body and our food than it is to face what’s going on in the world.
“So that having been said, one of the things we can do to help ourselves feel better about our bodies but also to keep social media a healthier space is to switch off.
“And switch off for at least an hour a day, and take some time where we’re not filling that space with TV or music or this or that or this or that—that we actually let our mind talk to us, where we can connect to our internal voice which is always there.
“And it knows our truth, it knows what we really want. But when we ignore it or try to push it down or we shove it away, that’s when those body image issues really grow. So try to take at least an hour a day where you aren’t online.”
Q: What are your favorite ways to fill that hour plus of “me” time?
A: “I love taking baths. I think they’re a joyful, wonderful thing with some candles and some really smell-good bath bombs.
“Or walking. Walking is so beautiful. It feels great for our bodies. It’s an incredible way of nurturing our bodies, because we as humans need movement. So walking….
“Journaling is a really powerful way to talk to yourself, especially if maybe you are struggling with your own voice or you’re a people pleaser—or maybe you have something you want to say to someone else.
“But because it’s hard you can’t, or you’re navigating that. At least you can journal it down so that your thoughts exist somewhere, and your words get out.
“And I like playing with my kitty cats. It makes them happier—the more you play with, them the happier they are. So it’s a win-win.”
Q: What are ways you support your health—whether that’s your immune health, your physical health, your mental health?
A: “I love fitness. That for me is a huge way of supporting my health. It’s a slightly tricky one, because obviously I speak a lot with or to individuals from eating disorder backgrounds.
“And you do have to be hyper aware if you’re in recovery, if you’re in the thick of an eating disorder. Exercise addiction can be a really dangerous thing.
“And when I went through recovery, there was over six months where I wasn’t allowed to exercise. It was a hard ‘no.’ It was, ‘Right now your body, it needs to gain weight.
“This is unhealthy, we need to heal you. And then you can look at adding back movement for the love of it, not because you ate an apple and you need to burn off those calories.’
“But now, that having been said, it’s a delicate one and I want to caveat that.
“But if you are in a mentally healthy place or even if that isn’t your issue—maybe you’re struggling with depression or other things, if exercise isn’t triggering for you—I can’t recommend it enough.
“For me, it’s one of the greatest things. It balances me out, it brings me joy. It’s something I look forward to every day. It fills me with those happy endorphins.
“But also if I’m having a bad body image day—and I do have those—if I go and I do a run and I lift some weights, or I do a beautiful yoga class, it reminds me my body isn’t a battle ground, it’s not something I’m in war with.
“It’s this incredible tool that lets me do the things I enjoy. So for me, exercise really helps me remember how amazing it is to be alive, how amazing of a blessing it is to exist.
“So I’m a huge fan of exercise, that definitely is something I do to take care of my wellness and my health.
“And then I also let myself eat every day. I try to heal myself in a way that feels so good for my body. So mostly fruits and vegetables and things close to nature.
“But in the same breath, today I had a huge plate of pasta and had an apple tart at the end. And that’s also healing yourself because it’s food for the joy of it and it’s food that was done in a really beautiful way—and food that made me happy.
“And so that kind of balance is really important to me. That’s also something I do for my wellness is not restrict, not limit, not go to those pretty awful extremes that many of us who have struggled with disordered eating have had to navigate.”
When I chatted with Danae Mercer about self love and body image, she had so many impactful things to say. I hope you save this interview and refer back to it time and time again.
I’d love to hear from you! Let me know your thoughts on this conversation with Danae Mercer!
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